Beyond the metrics of top down approaches in the form of targets, policies and quotas, we learn so much from our qualitative data on diversity and inclusion; through real conversations with senior people working in global businesses.

Here I’d like to share some thoughts on improving diversity and inclusion from a practical point of view. A great deal can be achieved from a grass-roots upwards approach!

What D&I professionals tell us

Diversity is now multi-faceted, going beyond gender and we are frequently asked about sourcing talent based on ethnicity and sexual orientation as well as providing talent pools comprised of inherent as well as acquired talent diversity.

Gender is still a hot topic, and particularly senior representation, where women can act as role models. One contact said that the lack of female role models can lead to women giving up and leaving, particularly after child birth if they see little chance of getting to the position that they covet.

There is an increasing awareness of the importance on ethnicity, due to changing global demographics. More and more organisations work in an inter-cultural working environment and therefore need to develop strong representation at senior level.

A major challenge is driving diversity and inclusion through leadership. D&I professionals tell us they need more commitment from leaders as they ultimately make decisions and have most influence on business culture. Whilst there are improvements in commitment from the top, inclusion at the middle management level in particular still needs developing.

A senior HR contact said that across the business and at all levels of seniority, people now have the right level of awareness, but there is still lot of work to be done in engaging with hiring managers and line managers. There’s also a need to move from diversity, to diversity and inclusion, in conversations at all levels of the business.

The way forward

Addressing the challenges takes time and senior buy-in but there are a lot of practical, low investment action a business can take to kick-start action on diversity and inclusion.

Engagement from the top: There is a need to have leaders pay attention to, and show their true interest in, diversity and inclusion in order to influence cultural behaviours in the business. D&I initiatives work best when the CEO cares and asks management how they are getting on; when they reward line managers with and appreciation that they champion publically for the whole company to see.

Move from diversity, to diversity and inclusion: Develop inclusion acumen within the business to evolve from representation to retention. In some businesses we find that diversity is eroded as employees, from populations where there is not perhaps a critical mass of talent, end up leaving the business because their manager doesn’t know how to be inclusive.

Diversity is not just for HR: Diversity and inclusion is for the agenda of the whole business. One client told us that whereas in the past, D&I roles were within HR, they have now moved the function to report into the Head of Talent therefore taking a proactive stance on future talent.

Targets need to have impact: Stress to management that targets are not quotas and they do not have to be met but they will have to justify to the Board why they were not met. Hold line managers to account to keep D&I on their busy agendas.

Promote women at the same rate as men: Research shows that promoting women earlier (at the same time that men tend to get promoted) results in women returning to work sooner after child birth and improved retention. Women are promoted two to three years later than men according to research by McKinsey.

Match consumer demographics: Diversity makes business sense when you look at consumer demographics and the need to adapt to better serve them in a globalised world. Your workforce of the future needs to reflect your market place for best results. And, it’s worth investing now to ensure senior representation in the mid-term future.

Allow for local ownership of D&I : Being truly inclusive means you need to understand local nuances to win hearts and minds. Whilst it’s good to have a global policy and framework, local country heads need some autonomy to work within their local market and work to local requirements.

Build a diverse pipeline: Bring people in who are talented, ahead of actual vacancies and create talent pipelines with specific diversity requirements. Hiring managers need to have a strong understanding of their recruitment responsibilities, for example introducing diverse shortlist. Engage your talent pipeline and regularly check you have the right mix of talent ready to step into roles as they arise.

Valérie Thibiéroz is Head of Client Services for the consumer and industrial sectors at Armstrong Craven. Follow her @VThibierozAC

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